Ian ZieringNewark has produced some remarkable acting résumés over the last century, but none as unique as Ian Ziering’s. Born in Brick City and raised in West Orange, he began his television career as a daytime drama actor before snagging the role of Steve Sanders, the laid-back rich kid with a good heart and great sense of humor on Beverly Hills 90210. After a decade on the Fox megahit, the self-described journeyman actor continued to hone his craft as a performer, director and businessman. And then, there was Sharknado. And Sharknado 2. And Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No…campy SyFy channel cult hits with jaw-dropping special effects that produced eye-popping ratings. As Robert Piper discovered, Ian’s journey has much to offer regarding the importance of family, an honest work ethic, and the ups and downs of show business life. And, of course, the best way to kill a great white falling from the sky. Spoiler alert: It’s a chainsaw.
radius: When you were growing up in West Orange how much was Newark on your radar?
ZIERING: It was very much on my radar.
radius: Your father was a schoolteacher.
ZIERING: At Webster Junior High School and Vailsburg High School. His entire educational career was spent with the Newark Board of Ed. I was actually a substitute teacher once there.
radius: What do you recall about your experiences in the city?
ZIERING: We would always go to Don Pepe’s for special dinners. Ya know, Down Neck. I remember, I’d always buy my electronics and stereo from Drucker’s…[laughs] Drucker’s stereo store was always great because they had everything, and the best deals.
radius: Have your Jersey roots helped you or hindered you in your career?
ZIERING: Growing up in New Jersey, in the family that I was fortunate enough to be born into, has really giving me two things: A strong sense of family, and a very strong work ethic.
radius: How did you get your start in Soaps?
ZIERING: Auditioning! I started really as a class clown in Redwood Elementary School in West Orange, parlayed that into an acting career, and then turned professional when I was 12. From there, I was always auditioning for something.
radius: Did those roles lead to Beverly Hills 90210?
ZIERING: No, there were about 18 months between Guiding Light and 90210.
radius: How much Ian Ziering was there in Steve Sanders?
ZIERING: There was quite a bit. It was my life, but through his imaginary circumstances.
radius: How did you handle the fame that came with that series?
ZIERING: I took the fame with a grain of salt. But I was always very appreciative of the role and the work I was given, and never took it for granted. Again, I have a very strong work ethic that was instilled in me by my father. I never missed a day of work. I loved what I was doing.
radius: Was there a downside to the notoriety of 90210 as you moved forward with your acting career?
ZIERING: Certainly, being a part of a project for 10 years does make you very identifiable as that particular character. So there was a little bit of downtime after that, an adjustment period. But I didn’t sit idle. I went out to Colorado and built a house on spec, subsequently sold it, and kept my hands in the entertainment industry. I started to get back into it about a year or two after. I quickly picked up work again in episodic TV, and I produced and directed a movie short to fine-tune my directing skills that I had got my chops on 90210 with. As a journeyman actor, I always looked for opportunities that allowed me to grow or stretch in ways that I hadn’t been tested before. And I was just patient.
radius: How so?
ZIERING: In this industry, there is a tremendous amount of rejection. You can’t be the guy for every part, and I understood that. So I would just make sure that my skills were sharp and that I was prepared when interviews would come up, and be the best that I could be. I’ve been in the industry for 39 years. It’s a very challenging industry to be a part of. I’ve been very lucky over the years to be involved in some projects that really resonated with the public—not just people here in the United States, but all around the world.
radius: You worked pretty consistently in films and TV in the post-90210 years. Is there a performance that you feel stands out during that time—a Netflix title our readers should grab?
ZIERING: Yeah! There was a movie I did directed by Tony Scott called Domino. It’s about a female bounty hunter. I worked in it with Brian Green and it’s an unbelievable movie! It’s a true story about a female bounty hunter, and if you know who Tony Scott is, you know he’s one of top directors in Hollywood. And working alongside Keira Knightley and Mickey Rourke was a blast!
radius: When the Sharknado script came your way, where did it rank among the craziest offers you’d ever received?
ZIERING: Pretty much right near the top! The movie had so many holes in it that were left to be filled by visual effects, that I had a lot of trepidation. You know, typically, visual effects are the most expensive line item on the budget, and with all the effects that were called for in Sharknado, I didn’t feel confident that this movie would be able to deliver on all of them.
radius: What made you give the project a thumbs-up?
ZIERING: If it weren’t for my wife reminding me that I need to go to work—because I was having a baby a few months later—I would have passed on it. But as a husband and a father, I’m also a provider, and that’s job-one. I realized Oh boy, she’s right. I looked at her and said, “All right, I gotta do it. I gotta take one for the team.”
radius: At what point in the filming did you sense that you might be making a future cult classic?
ZIERING: Not ever throughout the course of filming for Sharknado. It wasn’t until the movie aired in mid-July 2013 that I realized the impact of Sharknado, how big the “storm” was. Then there was an immediate call for Sharknado 2. Then Sharknado 2 had more than a billion Twitter impressions. And with Sharknado 3, you know, the anticipation was global and the excitement was enormous.
radius: How did the success of the first movie change how you approached 2 and 3?
ZIERING: Well, it gave me a lot more confidence once I saw what the visual-effects artist were able to do with my actions. I didn’t trust them at first. I wasn’t sure if, me panicking and jumping out of the way was going to be substantiated by an authentic action, if they could really illuminate it. Whatever actions I portray in front of the camera have to be plausible reactions for the broadcast. So once I saw that there was a safety net for me, I was much more free to be broader in my own actions. For instance, there’s this one point in Sharknado 2 that I actually bat a piece of fire out of the sky. I threw a punch at it and had no idea what the animators would do with that. But I wanted to give them something to work with and they did a fantastic job. I’d figured I’d be punching a fish out of the way, but in that particular scene there was fire raining out of the sky, so instead I batted a piece of flaming debris out of the sky. It was just great. Now with Sharknado 3, I know that the effects artist really have my back. I was very fluid with my movements and going the extra distance to make this a very real experience within the imaginary circumstances.
radius: What’s in the pipeline for you now?
ZIERING: I launched a clothing line last year, all online, at chainsawbrands.com. We sold out of all our inventory, so we really gained a lot of traction and momentum—so much so that I took the line to the Magic Fashion Convention in Las Vegas in August. We’ll be going into retail stores in the fall.
radius: What did you take away from your time on The Apprentice?
ZIERING: I learned that I was right in thinking that success “unshared” is failure, and that I can be incredibly motivated when I am championing a cause. On The Apprentice it was ebkids.org. Epidermolysis Bullosa is a horrible, fatal disease for kids. Now with Chain Saw Brands, a portion of the proceeds from my hand-signed signature line will go to benefit others, to help various charities and further my philanthropic efforts. I’ve really got my hands in a lot of different things, because ultimately I’m doing my best to be a provider for my wife and kids, which is what my dad did. So I’m just doing what he did. I’m starting a Web site called celebrityhideaways.com, which also has a philanthropic component. It’s a Web site where people can discover the rare, unique out-of-the way places celebrities go all around the world. Their experiences are not exclusive to the rich and famous. Many are available to people if they knew about them. I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun building that out.
radius: So where’s your go-to spot the next time you get back to West Orange?
ZIERING: Wow. You know, we use to eat at Starlite Pizza every Saturday night, so I’d probably go back to Starlite Pizza for an Italian hotdog.